Social media impact on public relations practice

Question:

? How social media is affecting the public relation practice in the past five years?
Definition and History
? Social media definition and history.
Definition and History
? Public relation definition, and history.
Research Questions 
o Have blogs and social media enhanced the practice of public relations? Yes easy to target strategic publics
o Do blogs and social media influence traditional, mainstream news media? Yes
o Is the reverse true?—-yes, though there is generational gap
o In what aspects did social media change the public relations industry?
o Since social media (including blogs) have made communications more immediate have they forced organizations to respond more quickly to criticism?
o Has the emergence of social media (including blogs) changed how organizations communicate?
o Do blogs and social media complement or conflict with mainstream traditional news media?
o Is it ethical for employees to write and post on a web blog negative statements about the organizations they work for?
o Is it ethical for representatives of organizations to monitor information their employees have written on weblogs?
o Is it ethical for an organization to conduct research or measurement studies that focus on information their employees are writing on weblogs?

Results & Recommendation
? Report the results from all research questions
? How to benefit from the impact of social media
? Conducting guidelines for using social media in public relations industry.

Answer:

Title: Social media impact on public relations practice

Introduction

Over the past five years, social media has been impacting significantly on the public relations practice. Indeed, social media technologies are changing public relations in a dramatic way. The emergence of social media has transformed the way organizations communicate. These changes appear to be more profound in external than in internal communications. A significant number of people in the contemporary society spend a large proportion of their time navigating through social media and blogs. Upon this realization, many public relations practitioners are resorting to social media and blogs to target their various publics.

Social media definition and history

By definition, social media is a form of electronic communication that entails users creating web- and blog-based online communities through which they share ideas, information, personal messages, photos, videos, and other content. The history of social media may be traced back to the late 1970s with the invention of the Bulletin Board System. In 1993, Mosaic web browser was launched, and this marked the birth of the World Wide Web. From here, social media has been undergoing an amazing revolution. During the late 1990s, the most commonly known social media sites included Blogger and Geocities. The turn of the millennium brought with it MySpace and Friendster. This is the path that eventually led us to where we are today. The present-day social media is dominated by corporate names such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

The entrepreneurial spirit that has led to the growth of social media has been characterized by success, failure, disappointment, and sometimes remarkable innovation. When the first email was sent in 1971, a stage had already been set for the creation of the first social media: Bulletin Board Systems (BBS). In BBS, users could exchange data over phone lines. In 1978, a remarkable milestone involved the distribution of first copies of web browsers through an online bulletin board.

Geocities, one of the first social networking websites, was founded. The idea behind Geocities was the ability by users to come up with their own sites on the basis of the categories of six ‘cities’ that were defined by virtue of certain characteristics, for example Wall Street and Hollywood. In 1995, TheGlobe.com was established, giving users the ability to publish their own content in a manner that personalized their online experiences to enable them interact with people with whom they shared interests. In an ironic twist, a record IPO of the company worth $850 million plummeted to a paltry $4 million within a period of just three years.

In 1997, AOL, a site that popularized instant messaging, was launched. It was followed a year later by sixdegrees.com, which allowed individuals to build their own profiles and to list friends. The year 2000 was characterized by the bursting of the .com bubble, wrecking huge investment of numerous web entrepreneurs. Two years into the millennium, Friendster was launched, and its main highlight was the ability to connect with friends in the real world. Within three months, this website had three million users. A year later, MySpace was launched, and many people thought it resembled Friendster. In the years that followed, many other websites were launched, including Classmates.com, Netlog, Tribe.net, and Linkedin.

A significant development in the world of social media was the launch of Facebook in 2004. Initially, it was meant to connect college students in the US. Within the first month, half of the students of Harvard College, where it was launched, had signed up. Twitter, another key social site of today, is a much more recent invention, having been launched in 2006. In 2008, Facebook overtook MySpace as the most popular social networking website.

Public relation: Definition and history

Public relations is the profession in which practitioners are involved in the work of establishing and maintaining goodwill of various publics of an organization through publicity and other forms of non-pain communication. The publics that are normally targeted by public relations practitioners include employees, customers, suppliers, and investors. There are many activities that are normally associated with public relations, including education, charitable causes, civic engagements, sporting events, and press releases.

The field of public relations has been with mankind for thousands of years. In the Greek world, the term used to refer to public relations was ‘sematikos’, whose meaning was ‘to mean’. In the American war of independence in 1776, techniques of public relations and political propaganda were used to convince soldiers to keep fighting at a time when they were ready to flee from the hardship of winter.

In the mid-19th century, P.T Barnum emerged as one of the leading public relations practitioners of all time. Barnum had the ability to attract thousands of customers to his enterprises through publicity-related activities. During this time, the ability to deal with the press was critical in one’s success as a publicist. This trend made public relations to become a profession in the 1900s. In 1903, Ivy Lee offered himself to offer advice to John Rockefeller, the owner of Pennsylvania Railroad and numerous coal mines in the US. In professionalizing PR, Lee undertook to tell the truth, offer accurate facts, and maintain access to top management where decisions can easily be influenced.

The process of professionalizing PR was taken a notch higher with the publication of Crystallizing Public Opinion by Edward Bernays in 1923. In this book, Bernays said that the functions of PR were twofold. The first function entailed interpreting the client to the relevant public while the second one was to interpret the relevant public to the client. In the first function, the PR practitioner was required to promote the client; in the second one he was expected to operate a company in a manner that is approved by the public.  Barnays viewed PR as public service. He thought that PR ought to promote progress and new ideas while in the process building public conscience.

Research Questions

Have blogs and social media led to the enhancement of the practice of public relations?

Blogs and social media are having a far-reaching influence in the way various activities are undertaken in the public relations industry. PR practitioners are now getting used to the practice of making official announcements on the micro-blogging site Twitter and social network Facebook. Indeed, Twitter has had a far-reaching impact on the way activities relating to PR are undertaken.

The social media appears to have replaced the television as the main source of news for many people in the US and indeed across the developed world. Nowadays, even people in developing countries are catching up with regard to this trend. Since their emergence about 5 years ago, social media sites have grown in popularity each year. The phenomenon of micro-blogging and reference to social media has even surpassed pornography as the number one use of the World Wide Web. A particularly desirable aspect of the new technologies associated with social media and blogging is that they can be manipulated to target strategic publics (Weber, 2007). PR practitioners can use various social media functions to communicate both internally and externally with the relevant publics.

Since the launch of the first weblogs more than a decade ago, the impact of social media on public relations has been phenomenal. With time, the social media has evolved to encompass multimedia environment, characterized by images, text, audio, animation, and video. These multimedia components are being used to create message boards, forums, podcasts, photo- and video-sharing channels, wikis, professional networks, and search engine marketing platforms.

Today, social networks constitute the leading platform through which people share content. This is not surprising, considering that more than 50% of all internet users belong to a social network (Young, 2009). An even higher proportion of internet users read blogs that fall in their areas of interest and professional specialty.

However, although social media continues to change the way people and organizations engage in communication, there are still subtle difficulties in defining the exact nature of social media (Gillmor, 2004). A commonly used notion is that of ‘user-generated content or media’. In such media, an increasingly high number of people are getting news and information online as opposed to through the traditional media. Therefore, today, the practice of public relations has been drastically enhanced through the use of new technologies associated with social media. These technologies make it possible for strategic publics to be accessed easily.

 

 

Do blogs and social media influence traditional, mainstream news media?

There is no doubt that social media and blogs have a far-reaching influence on traditional, mainstream media. Instead of spending a lot of time glued in front of the TV has traditionally been the case, many people are spending more time online. This could be in their offices in front of their desktop computers and laptops or on their mobile phones, smart phones, and iPads whenever they are outdoors, at home, or hanging out with friends in hotels, pubs, and stores.

Social media and blogs tend to complement the traditional, mainstream media instead of being in conflict with them. With time, the acceptability of social media as a tool for complementing the traditional mainstream media appears to be increasing. A significant factor in this complementary relationship is about credibility, accuracy, ethics, and truth. In these categories, there is a general feeling that social media and blogs still have a long way to go before they can achieve the milestone that has been achieved by the traditional media. Social media is considered an accurate source of information and news. Moreover, it is thought to neglect adherence to ethical cultures. In most cases, ethical cultures and transparency are neglected at the expense of nurturing low-cost avenues of developing relationships with people from a variety of strategic groups.

Regarding the influence of traditional media on social media, it is imperative to note that the traditional media options continue to increase as far as variety of channels is concerned (Wright & Hinson, 2006). This increase has caused public relations experts to wonder whether the traditional media is turning the tides and bringing to a stop the continued dominance of social media.

In an interesting research study finding conducted jointly by 2009 by GSI Commerce and Forrester in London, social media was found to have a near-zero influence on online purchases. A year later, a research study on Canadian consumers showed preference for traditional media to social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and blogs when carrying out research before making purchases. In this survey, which was conducted by CCPRF (Canadian Council of Public Relations Firms), it was found out that 86% of Canadian internet users prefer accessing product information through traditional media such as radio (78%), TV (83%), and newspapers (86) (Champoux, 2012).

In the same CCPRF survey, only 29% of the respondents claimed they would use social media and blogs for pre-shopping research. Facebook emerged as a preferred channel for 21% of the respondents, with only 15% saying they use Twitter to research on products. Sixty eight percent of the respondents preferred to visit the company website to get product information before heading to any social media site.

Although the opinions of the traditional media have a much higher influence in shaping the purchase decisions of people in many developed countries such as Canada, a major generational gap is emerging. A high proportion of the younger generation considers Facebook, YouTube, blogs, as efficient and credible news sources. This is an indication of blurred boundaries between trusted conversations, news, and marketing.

In what aspects did social media change the public relations industry?

The best thing about communicating through the web is that it is free. This is unlike the case of traditional media, where PR practitioners have to purchase space. Moreover, the web has the power to propel a company or brand to near-instant fame as long as the idea has successfully taken off on the internet superhighway. However, it is rather unfortunate that not many PR practitioners are taking advantage of social media and blogs to communicate with strategic publics. In this regard, these practitioners fail to realize that value of having other people tell the story on their behalf. Yet this is precisely what happens in blogs and other forms of social media. This phenomenon has led to the coinage of terms such as ‘viral’, ‘word-of-blog’, ‘word-of-mouse’, and ‘buzz’. In this phenomenon, one individual informs his friend, and his friend forwards the information to one or two other individuals. This goes on and on until the information has been passed over to millions of people across the world.

It is also unfortunate that there is limited academic literature on the impact of social media on the public relations practice. Most of the literature comes from reports of large public relations firms, trade press, and practitioners who have authored articles and books on the issue. The available literature, though, contains detailed explanations of the changes that are occurring with regard to the way information is gathered and shared in the context of public relations practice in the information age.

For instance, the term ‘blogs’ has been explicitly defined. It is the short term of ‘weblogs’. Weblogs are simply personal websites that are easy to publish, whose role is to provide opinion, commentary, and uncensored information on a diverse range of topics. Weblogs emerged in a sporadic manner as an excellent avenue for publishing with the emergence of the World Wide Web. This started happening because anyone wishing to share an opinion only needed to spare a few minutes to create his own website for publishing those opinions and linking up with other websites.

By the end of 2005, there were about 34 million blogs, and this figure shot up to 100 million by the end of 2007 (Weber, 2007). According to Weber (2007), more than 100,000 new weblogs continue being created daily. Moreover, there are some 1.3 million posts being added everyday to the existing blogs.

For public relations practitioners, a key question is on how many of these blogs address issues relating to news. Weber’s (2007) estimates indicate that on a typical day, some 50,000 blogs highlight news-related issues daily. Sometimes, the number of blogs focusing on news-related issues may increase to reach 100,000.  Whereas some companies actively engage in blogging, others do not. Many factors come into play to determine whether a company engages in blogging or not. Such factors may include cultural variations, availability of technology, and legal constraints. For instance, blogging continue at an explosive rate in the US, Japan, and France, but the rate of growth remains very slow in China and Russia.

PR practitioners who use blogs point out that they are revolutionary, in that they provide an excellent avenue for publication where ideas are expressed freely without any distractions. This makes them an excellent, yet free, PR tool for sharing knowledge, fostering dialogue, and marketing a company’s products. Moreover, blogs tend empower employees in a manner that rivals that of the trade unions of the 19th century (Crescenzo, 2005). The resulting two-way communication serves to facilitate corporate relations among internal audiences.

Despite these far-reaching advantages, very few corporate heads encourage blogging among employees and PR professionals. Nevertheless, an increasing number of employees are finding a good reason to blog. Some want to become experts and to position themselves as thought leaders. Others want to test ideas by encouraging feedback from audiences. For others, focus is on personalization of relationships. These employees see blogs as excellent platforms for personalizing relationships with their colleagues as well as other strategic public, for example stockholders and customers.

Conflicting sentiments tend to be expressed on whether blogging among employees is good or bad (Scoble & Israel, 2006). However, companies that encourage their employees to blog cite various benefits, including the blogs’ ability to lure customers, amplification of impact through links to other posts, efficiency, and zero cost.

Meanwhile, there is a growing trend, whereby many corporate heads are blogging in order to nurture personal relationships with their customers as well as employees. In this regard, blogs help in establishing connections characterized by real people talking to real people, an aspect that many corporate entities have in the past tended to neglect.

As for the social media, a key aspect of influence on public relations is the dramatic reduction of turnaround time whenever communications are being made to specific target publics. Social media makes it necessary for important issues to be communicated quickly, in real time. This drastically reduces the likelihood of lawyers forcing their organizations to withhold crucial information.

With social media, there are limitless possibilities as far as the number of stakeholders that can be accessed is concerned. This media has made it possible for PR experts to keep finding new stakeholders all the time. This strengthens strategic relationships that are necessary for achieving the goal of positive publicity. The goal of positive publicity is normally achieved because social media creates opportunities for people to communicate in a natural, friendly, and more human manner. In such a context, people become aware of events and trends through quick responses whose credibility it is easy to ascertain. In this crosschecking, PR experts are saved the pain of having to negotiate the rigors of traditional publishing frameworks and schedules.

Have social media (including blogs) forced organizations to respond more quickly to criticism?

Social media and blogs have made corporate communications more immediate. In this same vein, they have certainly forced organizations to respond to criticism more quickly. In an environment where social media is complementing the traditional news media, it is necessary for PR practitioners’ responses to criticism to be prompt. Failure to do this only makes them to be out of tune with social media communications, which always operate instantaneously. In this case, the best thing is to respond to criticisms as soon as they have been surfaced on any online media.

The whole business of prompt response to criticism among PR professionals has a lot to do with crisis planning. In this era of information technology and plenty of internet-related content, social media attacks on companies are becoming a regular phenomenon. In light of this development, it is necessary for companies to put in place mechanisms of crisis planning. An example of this situation was the incident in 2010 when Nestle’s Facebook Fan page was overrun by critics, who discussed issues of sustainability, deforestation, and social media relations. This was considered an attack because the company’s fan page was not the right avenue for discussions on deforestation and sustainability. This attack had the potential to destroy the Nestle’s brand because of the resulting negative social connotations.

The criticism launched on Nestle’s Facebook Fan page was attributed to a group of Greenpeace campaigners. These campaigners’ protest triggered a barrage of online criticism of Nestle’s business strategy. As one would expect, majority of this criticism was expressed on the same Facebook page. Nestle adopted a defensive response, which was communicated promptly on the same Facebook page. In this response, the company threatened to delete off-brand logos from the page. This response triggered a flurry of even more negative comments. On the company’s corporate website, however, PR professionals adopted a different strategy. they simply put up a question-and-answer platform while leaving the Facebook Fan page open to detractors.

In the example of criticism leveled against Nestle, it is clear that although PR professional may feel compelled to respond quickly to criticism leveled through social media, they lack the appropriate strategies of doing so. In other words, they appear unprepared for such undertakings. Although there is no company that does not have critics, the existence of social media has made it possible for coordinated attacks to be launched.

The situation becomes tricky not because of the existence of critics, but because of their ability to use the social media and organize globally and launch a coordinate attack. Moreover, these critics tend to use the same technological tools used by the companies to market themselves. In such a situation, some PR experts may feel that the best way is to launch a counterattack. However, others simply ignore the critics and focus on their usual public relations activities as if nothing was going.

Complications reach a crescendo when company’s online platforms are attacked and overrun by critics. In such situations, the company’s PR experts cannot sit back and watch as their marketing and public relations platforms are being sabotaged (Murray, 2005). These criticisms resemble real-world protests in which the protestors carry all manner of placards to express their disaffection with a certain issue. Such situations require a prompt response from the public relations department. Professionals in this department have to mount coordinated efforts with the relevant stakeholders to consult on which message should be communicated to various publics in response to the criticisms.

The issue of ownership of social media platform is also a major bother for PR professionals. Once more, the example of the Facebook Fan Page is worth giving. In this fan page, ownership remains unclear. In such fuzzy areas, it is true to say that real power lies with the community that accesses the page. Yet critics who launch organized attacks on such pages form a part of that community. The brand owners tend to think that they own the Facebook Fan Page, but their fans can always demonstrate their power and end up taking over this ownership. Upon closer analysis, it is clear that neither party can claim to ‘own’ this crucial property. It belongs to Facebook. Nevertheless, there is nothing much that brand owners can expect Facebook to do to prevent coordinated attacks. It is upon the brand owners to stamp their authority over the uses to which their fan pages are put. To stamp this authority entails launching a counterattack on the critics to avoid losing control of the public relations platform altogether.

Such eventualities have radically transformed the practice of public relations, with prompt responses to criticism forming a core component. The professionals manning social media sites have to have the knack for online communication to avoid being scared by the global outpouring of criticism. They are expected to be prompt in terms of responses to crises while at the same time being able to adhere to the set-out plans at all times. This enables them to avoid making communications that contravene company policies and regulations.

In some cases, it may be able to anticipate an outpouring of criticism. This may be triggered by a controversial policy or a bitter dispute with a competitor. Normally, the PR professional handles the challenge with more composure if he adopts a proactive rather than a reactive response. This requires the ability to read the moods, implicit hints, complaints, and indicators of disaffection among customers and other stakeholders through the social media. Sometimes, this disaffection may be communicated in other platforms apart from those that company used to make its official communications and to interact with strategic publics. This implies a shift of PR practice towards vigilance and continued analysis social media and blogs. Indeed, this versatility is a crucial asset that enables the professionals respond quickly to criticisms.

The rise of social media has also imposed new challenges on those who manage PR departments. Unlike in the past, certain responses to online media criticism cannot be left to junior PR interns. They have to be assigned to seasoned community managers. Some companies make the mistake of assigning such roles of young, inexperienced employees simply because they are internet-savvy. They fail to realize that response to online criticisms relate to the ability to deal with angry customers, handling crises, nurturing relationships with strategic advocates, and handling crises without losing concentration and composure.

A rather peculiar challenge relating to the use of social media is that the communication tends to be uncensored and unpredictable. Moreover, the conversations follow a two-way channel, meaning that a corporate person has to always have the right answers whenever he undertakes to communicate with a stakeholder. A case in point is that of Facebook. The ability by PR people to handle Facebook conversations greatly determines the company’s reputation that will be portrayed online (Champoux, 2012).

When fans become dissatisfied, all they need to do to express themselves is to make posts on the wall of the Facebook Fan page. Many people become interested in knowing the sort of responses that a company is going to give in the wake of such criticism. Therefore, the responses to this criticism are a key indicator of the sort of company from which people are seeking services. In most cases, whenever a crisis prevention plan is in place, it becomes easy to handle an outpouring of complaints, insults, and derogatory remarks.

Champoux (2012) argues that in most cases, public outrage is caused by harm, broken promises, or threatened values. Responding to each customer on an individual basis is an effective way through which companies can recover from this criticism and emerge out of the mess with minimal damage to their reputations. On the bigger picture, the comments that individuals make on Facebook fan pages underpin the conventional behavior that is characteristic of social networking.

In the process of initiating immediate response, the PR people have to understand both the reasons why people are complaining and the sort of behavior that these complaints are bound to trigger in the social networking environment. Unlike in the ‘old-school’ PR practice, there is normally no room for jargon, hyperboles, buzzwords, and unnecessary detail. In a social networking environment, such words only serve to irritate customers and other stakeholders all the more.

Instead of using a single template and customizing it to fit into every situation, a PR officer operating in the era of Facebook and Twitter has to use a myriad of formats to serve different audiences for different purposes. For instance, search engine optimization (SEO) releases are targeted to customers while a social media release (SMR) is for use by the press, and sometimes even customers (Scott, 2007). On the other hand, video news releases (VNR) are primarily directed at broadcasters.

However, these differences describe the delineations that existed regarding interactions with the social media in its formative years. Today, any news release format can be directed at any audience. For instance, it is common for a video news release to be sent to customers and a social media release to be sent for broadcasting at a local TV station. It is all dependent on the context in which the PR practitioner has to respond to criticism. The professional has to use his discretion in choosing how to tailor his press release for publication in different media.

Emergence of social media and changes in organizational communication

The emergence of social media and blogs has completely changed the way organizations communicate. Social media releases (SMRs), complete with Web video components constitute the greatest breakthroughs that the world of public relations has seen since Ivy Lee wrote the first press release in 1906. Unlike the traditional press release, the SMR is a representation of a socially-conscious format that functions in a complementary fashion with both the traditional news releases and the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) releases. The resulting news items function both as social assets as well as pieces of crucial information.

With the traditional press releases, organizations were not able to provide what individual customers and stakeholders needed. However, today, SMRs make it possible to give each individual requires, in a social context. Nevertheless, most social media press releases that are sent today do not necessarily contain audio and video. This is because the message is not just about the inclusion of these multimedia components; it is about the maintenance of information connections across networks. People are interested in conversations that can bring them closer together in a social setting. Video and audio components are ideally added whenever it is determined they constitute the most appropriate way of achieving the goal of social togetherness.

Social media and blogs have also changed the way organizations communicate by creating an opportunity for news sharing in such a way that each person gets the information that is of relevance to him. Moreover, the information is presented in a format with which one is most familiar. Moreover, with social media, it is always easy to share this information with friends, through images, Web links, video, Facebook tags, text, and audio. This creates an opportunity for like-minded people to participate in interactions regarding the social media press release. Such interactions tend to bring on board stakeholders from different parts of the world, thereby contributing to increased awareness about the company’s activities and mission.

Through social media, a public relations professional is able to create a full-fledged social release in a non-indexed Uniform Resource Locator (URL) that can be privately shared with key contacts prior to the official announcement (Key, 2005). Using this resource, journalists and bloggers can come up with an online story without having to undertake further research. After the official announcement, the SMR goes live and links are made to SEO releases, traditional press releases, and the blog posts of the company. Finally, all these links are seamlessly wired back into the official social media press release of the company. Moreover, a seamless conversation is normally created, such that whenever a stakeholder hosts social content, for example through Scribd, YouTube, or Frickr, it links back to the original social media release.

Today, bloggers, PR specialists, consumers, journalists, and many other organizational stakeholders can gather, disseminate, and share information with ease (Reich & Solomon, 2008). This translates into availability of more resources, meaning that it is now more possible for conversations to be more effective. This is a great milestone for the public relations practice, where one-on-one conversations are considered indispensable in the efforts of nurturing lasting relationships. Through properly designed messages, social media releases become effective in inciting people into wanting to learn more the products being sold by a company.

A rather interesting way in which social media and blogs have transformed the way organizations communicate is the introduction of the video news release (VNR). The VNR operates in a context where stories are increasingly being told using multimedia tools. Today, it is much easier for PR practitioners to tell the story of their companies using video. It is easy to capture, edit, and upload videos to social networks such as Facebook and YouTube.

Social media, blogs, and indeed the internet, have revolutionized the world of corporate communication. They have done this by radically changing the characteristics and roles of audiences as they have to be traditionally known. In the traditional setting, the people who were conventionally referred to as audience existed only on the receiving end of one-sided media systems. The element of one-sidedness existed because there were high entry fees, such that only a few firms could compete to use the platform to speak very loudly. The rest of the populace did not get any chance. All they had to do was to sit back in isolation and listen to what the few selected firms owners and publicists had to say. Today, with the social media and weblogs up and running, the audience is not in isolation at all.

Blogs have virtually replaced the printing presses that dominated the world of public relations for decades, if not centuries. Blogs seem to take the form of humble devices that have extended the reach of the freedom of press to large audiences across the world. The blog may be compared to the podcast, which is now performing virtually all the functions that the traditional radio used to perform.

Similar, before the onset of blogging and social networking, only the big media houses could manage to shoot, edit, and distribute from a diverse range of sources. Today, it is easy for even a novice PR practitioner to prepare video for publication on an online forum or social network. Unlike in the past where such videos were only accessible through the TV, these videos are currently accessible on mobile platforms that easily fit into the user’s hands.

Not only is the audience participating in the creation of material for use in public relations, individuals are also accessing many tools for use in editing content. In corporate contexts, stakeholders may influence the nature of content that will be included in a social media release. This may happen if they are accorded an opportunity to edit the final draft before it is published.

In essence, social media differs from the traditional media, which is highly centralized. Instead of the hierarchy of media power tilting vertically towards the all-powerful media house specialists, there is a more friendly horizontal flow. In this flow, there is a citizen-to-citizen relationship where each participant treats his mate as an equal contributor in the social dialogue. In such a situation, corporate publicists have had to learn that public attention does not have to be triggered by the Big Media Houses. This has created a new balance of power between media operators and audiences. In the course of these dynamics, the ways in which organizations communicate with strategic publics have continued to change.

Do blogs and social media complement or conflict with mainstream traditional news media?

In the contemporary society, it is clear that to a large extent, social media and blogs are complementing the mainstream traditional news media. However, the biggest concern is that sometimes people put false information in the social media and blogs. For one to avoid falling into a trap of lies, it is always necessary to keep crosschecking what is posted on social sites such as Facebook and Twitter with what is being reported in the mainstream traditional news media. In this way, the social media operates in a complementary fashion with the traditional news media.

Sometimes, people post web links on their social sites such as Facebook as a way of directing their friends on where to get the whole story. Whenever such links are provided, it becomes easier for the friend to ascertain the credibility of the source. It is on this basis that he can decide whether to believe the story or not. In this regard, the social media appears to be excellently complementing the traditional news media.

Ethical impact on employees’ negative weblog posts about the organizations they work for

In corporate settings, ethics deals with issues of issues of whether one’s behavior is moral or immoral. It is closely related to a code of conduct of a company. The issue of ethics is a multifaceted one, such that conflicts between competing values are inevitable. In public relations, one of the manifestations of this conflict is the tendency by some employee to make negative, sometimes even embarrassing, remarks about the companies that they work for. Some employees argue that by being honest about the companies that they work for, they are conducting themselves in an ethical manner. For others, however, portrayal of a company that one is an integral part of in negative light is a serious bleach of the company’s code of moral conduct. In the latter scenario, the argument is that being an integral part of the company, the employee has no moral authority to criticize its policies. Instead of lamenting the company’s ills in web blogs, he should busy himself with seeking solutions to these problems.

Although some companies have corporate policies on blogging, many others are yet to stipulate clear rules for employees to follow when blogging. According to Hirschfield (2006), only 15% of US firms have put in place elaborate policies on work-related blogging. In Hirschfield’s (2006) study, most US workers expressed the belief that employees who publish embarrassing information about their companies ought to be dismissed for acting in an unethical manner.

Ethical impact of the tendency by representatives of organizations to monitor employees’ weblog posts

Most corporate heads feel that it is within their power to monitor what their employees are posting on web blogs. They argue that the information posted in these blogs is conventionally associated with the goings-on at the company. Although this association may appear implicit, to the lay person it may not. It is easy for the points of view expressed in the blogs to be interpreted to reflect the points of view of the companies for which the bloggers work.

Ideally, companies should inform their employees about the conditions under which this monitoring will be carried out (Wright, 2009). The employees should be aware that their blog posts are being monitored. They should also be conscious of the ethical standards that they are required to adhere to when posting blogs (Conlin & Park, 2004). For instance, PR practitioners may agree that it may sound dishonest for employees to be writing only positive things about the company. Nevertheless, the practitioners may rightly insist that the positive things should always outweigh the negative things in all blog posts.

Ethical issues and organization’s tendency to carry out research on information posted in employees’ weblogs

It is ethical for organizations to carry out research or measurement studies to determine the information that their employees publish in their blogs. Through such research, knowledge is gathered on the dynamics of blogging vis-à-vis the modern practice of public relations. Ultimately, such research and measurement studies contribute to an increase in the body of literature on the place of social media and weblogs in the world of public relations (Conlin & Park, 2004). This is a worthy undertaking, considering that currently, there is limited literature on weblogs as a public relations tool.

In a study by Wright (2009), 89% of the PR practitioners who participated said that they considered it ethical for organizations to carry out research on the information being divulged by employees in their weblogs. This indicates that the PR practitioners almost unanimously supported the use of research and measurement studies to determine the sort of company information being disclosed in blogs. These findings indicate the sort of conflicting perspectives that exist whenever the issue of business ethics is being analyzed.

As more academic work on blogs becomes available, companies will be able to adopt generally accepted theoretical perspectives to formulate a sound blogging policy. Although interesting findings exist regarding the ethics of blogging, it appears that most stakeholders would rather have their companies carry out research studies on the nature of content being posted on employees’ weblogs.

Results & Recommendations

Results

This research paper has come up with interesting findings on the research questions under investigation. First, blogs and social media are having a far-reaching influence in the way various activities are undertaken in the public relations industry. They are enhancing the way PR is practiced today. Blogs and social media are also influencing traditional, mainstream news media. The reverse is also true, although there is a generational gap, with young people expressing more trust in social media than the traditional mainstream news media.

Social media has changed the public relations industry in a dramatic way particularly in the form of a more rapid information exchange in a two-way communication. Moreover, social media and blogs have made communications more immediate while at the same time forcing organizations to respond more quickly to criticism. On the larger part, blogs and social media complement with mainstream traditional news media. The only area of conflict is accuracy. Instances of false information are more common in social media than in the traditional mainstream news media.

It is widely considered unethical for employees to write and post negative statements about the organizations they work for on a web blog. Conversely, according to study findings many people, including almost all PR professionals, argue that it is ethical for company representatives to monitor information their employees have written on weblogs. The same study also reveals overwhelming support for organizations to carry out measurement studies on the information posted by employees in their blogs.

Recommendations

  1. Companies need to put in place clear policies on the use of social media and blogs as PR tools.
  2. Every employee has a critical role to play in portraying the company he works for in positive light in social media and blog posts. In this regard, the social media has extended the PR role to each employee.
  3. There is need for companies to put guidelines in place on how social media and blogs are to be used as PR tools.
  4. The issue of ownership of social media such as Facebook and Twitter should be resolved so that problems of organized attacks and criticisms are dealt with expeditiously.
  5. In this era of social media and blogs, the practice of public relations requires someone who is not only internet-savvy, but also one who has a knack for online communication, brand marketing, and crisis management.

References

Champoux, V. (2012) Corporate Facebook pages: When “fans” attack, Journal of Business Strategy, 33(2), 22 – 30.

Conlin, M. & Park, A. (2004) Blogging with the Boss’s Blessing, Business Week, (June 28), 96-98.

Crescenzo, S. (2005), Let Me Blog or I’ll Go on Strike!, The Ragan Report, October24, 1-2.

Gillmor, D. (2004), We the Media: Grassroots Journalism By the People For the People, London: O’Reilly Media.

Hirschfield, S. (2006) Blogging and the American Workplace, Employment Law Alliance,4(2), 19-64.

Key, R. (2005) How the PR Profession Can Flourish in this New Digital Age: Why You Must Challenge Old PR Models, Public Relations Tactics, November 12, 2005, 18-19.

Murray, D. (2005) Who’s Afraid of Employee Blogs? The Ragan Report, November 14, 2005, 1-2.

Reich, B. & Solomon, D. (2008), Media Rules: Mastering Today’s Technology, Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Scoble, R. & Israel, S. (2006) Naked Conversations, Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Scott, D. (2007) The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Create a Press Release Strategy for Reaching Buyers Directly, Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Weber, L. (2007) Marketing to the Social Web: How Digital Customer Communities Build Your Business, Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Weber, L. (2007) Marketing to the Social Web: How Digital Customer Communities Build Your Business, Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Wright, D. & Hinson, M. (2006) How Blogs are Changing Employee Communication: Ethical Questions for Corporate Public Relations, A paper presented to the 9th Annual International Public Relations Research Conference, Miami, Florida, March 10.

Wright, D. (2009) Weblogs and Employee Communication: Ethical Questions for Corporate Public Relations, A Paper Presented to 9th Annual International Public Relations Research Conference, March 10, 2006, Miami, Florida.

Young, P. (2009) Online public relations: A practical guide to developing an online strategy in the world of social media, London: Kogan Page.

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